Finding the right OBD II scanner for your vehicle can open up a whole new world where you can not only see the error code but also directly address the issue with your car. There are times when the error codes indicate a relatively simple problem, and these may be readily fixable once you have the code.
Car enthusiasts have used OBD II scanners for years, and they have always been present in auto repair shops, but less expensive and simpler versions are available for the average vehicle owner. Car enthusiasts may opt for more complex models, but for occasional use, another model may be more appropriate.
What Is an OBD II Scanner?
An OBD II scanner is a device that you connect to your car which can tell you the error code from your vehicle’s computer when an indicator light is on. Most often a check engine light will be present, although another indicator light may illuminate instead or in addition to the check engine light.
Once one of the indicator lights lets you know that something is amiss with your vehicle, the next step is to connect your OBD II scanner and allow it time to run and tell you what the error or trouble code is. Most OBD scanners will give you an alphanumeric code that you can then research online, or in a reference book to get more information.
The OBD II scanner does not pose any harm to your vehicle when appropriately used, and it can yield a surprising amount of data that can help save you time and make fixing your vehicle much easier.
Will Any OBD Scanner Work with My Vehicle?
In 1996, the OBD II scanner became the standard for all cars, and ever since vehicle owners have been able to use one device to scan all makes and models. While there are still a variety of different OBD scanners, you should be able to plug any one of them into your car and receive the error code.
The OBD II was able to be standardized since it works directly with the onboard diagnostic (OBD) computer system in your vehicle. This computer system works to help your car run at its best and can also trigger alerts when something goes wrong.
The computer system in your vehicle has access to most of the systems that are running, and it can also exert some control over them to help your car run at its best. When the OBD detects that something is wrong, its triggers the check engine light, or other appropriate indicator light.
The OBD is also responsible for monitoring information that is collected by the sensors that are everywhere in your car. This includes near the wheels, and in and around the engine, which gives the OBD quite a bit of information to process at any given time.
What Do I Need to Know Before I Buy?
Before you buy an OBD II scanner, consider what you’ll be using it for and how often you’ll be using it. More complex models can cost significantly more than simpler models and may provide far more detail than is used in your particular situation.
Simpler models can be plugged in and immediately used, while more complex models may want to pair with another device such as a cellphone or laptop to yield all of their data. Not all models require that you use an app, but many OBD scanners have apps available that you install on your phone. Once the app is installed, you can wirelessly receive the error code.
Free apps that pair with OBD II scanners are a relatively new offering by OBD manufacturers, and many individuals find them to be incredibly useful. With the code in hand, users can also do online searches for more information about the error code and figure out how to fix it.
You’ll also want to decide how much you’d like to spend on an OBD II scanner as the prices can range from $50 to several hundred for the most complex versions. While most occasional users will opt for the $50 version, car enthusiasts may want to invest in a more expensive model that can deliver them more detailed information.
Beware of cheap or knock-off brands and models that may produce low-quality products. These units are often unreliable and may give you faulty information or be unable to read the code from your vehicle’s computer correctly.
If you decide to choose a more complex unit, consider the learning curve of how to use it and how much time you’d like to invest in referencing the manual. Although it’s a good idea to reference the manual at least to get started, many individuals have very little patience for manual reading and a more straightforward scanner may be better suited for their needs.
The Best OBD II Scanners
It may be surprising, but there are many OBD II scanners available for under $100 that have a variety of features. Here are our top picks for easy to use OBD scanners that are both inexpensive, and high performing.
BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool
The BlueDriver is available on Amazon for around $99.95 and is an excellent example of a relatively simple to use OBD scanner that packs a lot of quality and features. Other comparable models that were cheaper have been found to be unreliable, and user feedback has generally been negative.
However, the BlueDriver is well worth the extra money because it also provides recall information, a limited amount of dynamic data, and also offers suggestions for how to repair the issue it finds. While this is not the most straightforward device, the plug-and-play design is very user-friendly, and you can save reports as PDFs.
It comes with a free app that is available for Android and iOS platforms, and it has a range of 32 feet. You can opt for fuller reports or simplify it into snapshots to get a better idea of speed, RPM’s, and other data displayed visually.
This device may seem complicated, but users insist it’s easy and quick to use. The BlueDriver may also be the closest you can expect to get to a repair-shop level diagnostic tool for less than $100.
Autel AutoLink AL319
The Autel AutoLink features a 2-inch color screen which not only makes it easier to read but also allows you to see more of the data without having to use a supporting device like a cell phone.
The most unique feature of the Autel is that it comes with a mini-USB port which allows you to update it and also export data to a computer. Being able to update the programming and information database on this model can help extend its useful life and ensure that your data is accurate.
Typically, only more expensive models feature a mini-USB port, but the Autel is advanced enough that you can store reports on your laptop and compare performance before and after a repair. With a retail price of $35, this OBD II scanner is fully featured and modernized for more frequent use.
The only downside of this device is that the connecting cord is only 2 feet long which many found to be too short for connecting to their vehicle. It also doesn’t display more information about the codes, or real-time data, which can be a drawback for some.
Wsiiroon may have an odd name, but it also has a beautiful 2.8-inch color screen that rivals many phones. It’s a larger unit that fits more snugly in hand, and the body features bumpers to prevent damage if it gets dropped.
The Wsiiroon also comes with a 5-foot cable which is ample length for connecting to a vehicle. The user-friendly interface also ensures that you won’t be referencing the manual for very long, if at all, and it also includes a mini USB cable for updates and exporting data.
This device can connect to a PC or cellphone to transfer data and takes only seconds to connect. The carrying case that comes with it also helps to ensure that everything stays neatly tucked together between uses.
The measurements on this device are 7.6 x 3.9 x 1.4-inches, and the unit uses LEDs in three different colors to indicate overall automotive health.
The Foxwell retails for about $40 on Amazon, but it comes with a surprising number of features for the price. It has a 2.4-inch color screen, updatable software, and it can export data. The user-friendly interface features five buttons to help navigate, and it takes only seconds to connect to a vehicle.
The unit can also display real-time data such as the car’s VIN, and other performance data such as spark advance, engine speed, and any faults that may be pending. It can also turn off check engine lights and features three LEDs which indicate the overall health of your vehicle.
The case on the Foxwell measures 4.8 x 2.8 x 0.9 inches, and it weighs only 6.5 ounces. It is slightly larger and a little heavier than the other basic black and white scanners, but the easy to read screen makes it worth it.